Jan 15, 2016 | By Alec

Plastic has never been more available, as we in the 3D printing community know only too well. That’s a gift and a curse, as plastic is also the number one material found in landfills across the world. Technology specialists and conventions are therefore increasingly focused on finding environmentally-friendly and sustainable production options that don’t limit modern makers, but it seems like designer Danielle Trofe might have found a winning combination. Over the past year, she has been working on a series of lampshades for her Mush-Lume collection, which take the most environmentally friendly 3D printing approach yet. Using a couple of 3D printed molds as her basis, Trofe literally grows the lampshades in them from a special biodegradable mushroom material – essentially harnessing a biological 3D printing process.

If you’ve been to a number of innovation expo’s and forums over the past year or so, chances are you might have had to opportunity to see Trofe speak. She’s a Brooklyn-based designer that promotes a function-forward, sustainable and socially responsible approach to furniture and lighting design, and already won numerous award for this collection of lamps. As she recently told audiences: “What if instead of manufacturing products, we grew them?”. The same making technique has already been applied to the Mush-Bloom range too, a series of unusual plant pots.

Now if this all sounds a bit strange and disgusting, all the pieces fall into place one you hear of Trofe’s partner Ecovative, an upstate New York biomaterials company on a mission. It has been founded by Eben Bayer with the purpose of producing a solution for our standard packaging problem. As he recently explained at a TED talk, packaging material represents up to 25 percent of our landfills, and a single cubic foot of packaging plastic contains about the equivalent of 1.5 liters of oil. Back in 2006, he developed an alternative with Gavin McIntyre. Their new material is created from agricultural waste (from local farms) and mycelium, a material found in the root structure of mushrooms. The waste is fully cleaned and mixed with the mycelium, and dried and heated to make it fully storable and stop the decomposition process.

With the mycelium acting as a binder, the material is essentially a type of bioplastic that can packed into molds and act as a foam-like, completely natural and biodegradable packing material. “Mushroom Materials are: high performing, cost competitive, home compostable, rapidly renewable, custom designed and molded, not derived from petroleum or food, naturally fire resistant, VOC free, buoyant and fine-tunable to meet your needs,” its developers say. This intriguing material is currently commercialized through Eben Bayer’s Ecovative company, as Mushroom Packaging.

So what does this interesting sustainable packaging have to do with 3D printing? Well, Ecovative recently launched their Grow it Yourself program, with Danielle Trofe acting as a beta tester. As part of the program, this mycelium mixture is essentially turned into a natural 3D printer. The real magic begins when you introduce water to the mixture, just as for any decomposition process. "This process takes about three to four days," the developers have explained. "It's kind of like letting dough rise before you shape and bake your loaf of bread." Once wet, the mushrooms come to life to consume the waste, essentially growing it into new bio shapes. And when packed into molds, the mushrooms grow into every nook and cranny, creating a unique 3D printed shape. Once reheated to remove moisture, the growth process is stopped and you end up with a remarkable creation.

Grow It Yourself thus essentially enables everyone to naturally 3D print shapes, and that is exactly how Trofe’s Mush-Lume and Mush-Bloom projects have been created. However, there is a second 3D printing link, as Trofe has been using 3D printed molds to grow her lampshades and pot planters, emphasizing that this combination truly opens the way for original, eco-friendly making. “The Mush-Lume lighting collection is an effort to challenge and change our ideas about what interior objects are made from as well as the process by which they are produced. By tapping into a unique material science such as mushroom mycelium, we can begin to reimagine a more sustainable future within the lighting industry,” she says of her 3D printed lampshades.

It’s a fantastic and beautiful example of how 3D printing can be sustainable and ecologically responsible, while continuing that fantastic unique DIY nature of 3D printing. “The ability to have a hands-on experience with the Mushroom Material, to grow it, to learn its properties and to experiment with its living characteristics, has not only created a much more dynamic prototyping experience, but a more inventive and in-tune approach to material-based product design,” Trofe said of her experience. If you’re interesting in giving this unusual 3D printing process a try, check out the Grow It Yourself website.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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INmatteria wrote at 1/16/2016 1:45:44 AM:

I understand the molds are not 3d printed, yet vaccum-formed. ; )

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